CHAPTER V. FLORESTA: LIFE AMONG THE RUBBER-WORKERS
It was half past five in the morning when we arrived at the landing of the Floresta estate. Since it was too early to go up to the house I placed my trunk on the bank and sat admiring the surrounding landscape, partly enveloped in the mist that always hangs over these damp forests until sunrise. The sun was just beginning to colour the eastern sky with faint warm tints. Before me was the placid surface of the Itecoahy, which seemed as though nothing but my Indian's paddles had disturbed it for a century. Just here the river made a wide turn and on the sand-bar that was formed a few large freshwater turtles could be seen moving slowly around. The banks were high and steep, and it appeared incredible that the flood could rise so high that it would inundate the surrounding country and stand ten or twelve feet above the roots of the trees - a rise that represented about sixty-seven feet in all.
When I turned around I saw the half-cleared space in front of me stretching over a square mile of ground. To the right was Coronel da Silva's house, already described, and all about, the humbler barracaosor huts of the rubber-workers. In the clearing, palm-trees and guava brush formed a fairly thick covering for the ground, but compared with the surrounding impenetrable jungle the little open space deserved its title of "clearing." A few cows formed a rare sight as they wandered around nibbling at the sparse and sickly growth of grass.
By-and-bye the sun was fully up; but even then it could not fully disperse the mists that hung over the landscape. The birds were waking and their calls filled the air. The amorous notes of the inamboo were repeated and answered from far off by its mate, and the melancholy song of the wacurao piped musically out from the vastness of the forest. Small green paroquets flew about and filled the air with their not altogether pleasant voices. These are the same birds that are well-known to the residents of New York and other large cities, where a dozen of them can often be seen in charge of an intrepid Italian, who has them trained to pick cards out of a box for anyone desiring his fortune told for the sum of five cents. Here they must provide by their own efforts for their own futures, however. Even at this hour the howling monkey had not left off disturbing the peace with its hideous din.
Gradually the camp woke up to the day's work. A tall pajama-clad man spied me and was the first to come over. He was a very serious-looking gentleman and with his full-bearded face looked not unlike the artist's conception of the Saviour. He bade me welcome in the usual generous terms of the Brazilians and invited me into the house, where I again met Coronel da Silva. This first-mentioned grave-looking man was Mr. da Marinha. The kindness with which he welcomed me was most grateful; especially so in my present physical condition. I noticed what had not been so apparent on my first meeting with him, that recent and continuous ravages of fevers and spleen troubles had reduced him, though a fairly young man, to the usual nerve-worn type that the white man seems bound to become after any long stay in the upper Amazon region.
Not knowing where I might stop when I left Remate de Males, I had brought with me a case of canned goods. I only succeeded in insulting the Coronel when I mentioned this. He gave me his best room and sent for a new hammock for me. Such attentions to a stranger, who came without even a letter of introduction, are typical of Brazilian hospitality.
After a plentiful meal, consisting of fried fish and roast loin of tapir, which tasted very good, we drank black coffee and conversed as well as my limited knowledge of the Portuguese language permitted. After this, naturally, feeling very tired from my travels and the heat of the day, I arranged my future room, strung my hammock, and slept until a servant announced that supper was served. This meal consisted of jerked beef, farinha, rice, black beans, turtle soup, and the national Goiabada marmalade. The cook, who was nothing but a sick rubber-worker, had spoiled the principal part of the meal by disregarding the juices of the meat, and cooking it without salt, besides mixing the inevitable farinha with everything. But it was a part of the custom of the country and could not be helped. De gustibus non est disputandum.
When this meal was over, I was invited to go with the secretary, Mr. da Marinha, the man who had first greeted me in the morning, to see a sick person. At some distance from the house was a small barracao, where we were received by a seringueiro named Marques. This remarkable man was destined to figure prominently in experiences that I had to undergo later. He pulled aside a large mosquito-net which guarded the entrance of the inner room of this hut. In the hammock we found a middle-aged woman; a native of Ceara. Her face was not unattractive but terribly emaciated, and she was evidently very sick. She showed us an arm bound up in rags, and the part exposed was wasted and dark red. It was explained that three weeks before, an accident had forced a wooden splinter into her thumb and she had neglected the inflammation that followed. I asked her to undo the wrappings, a thing which I should never have done, and the sight we saw was most discouraging. The hand was swollen until it would not have been recognised as a hand, and there was an immense lesion extending from the palm to the middle of the forearm. The latter was in a terrible condition, the flesh having been eaten away to the bone. It was plainly a case of gangrene of a particularly vicious character.